THE GRAND playlist of jazz musicians who brought national fame and local nightlife to downtown U Street in its heyday is filled with headliners who loved performing in the clubs along the "Black Broadway," as Pearl Bailey once called it. Calvin Jones -- versatile trombonist, pianist, bassist, composer and arranger -- was one who extended his talents to the classrooms of Washington, from elementary schools to college, sharing a keen insider's knowledge of the music's importance to American history. Mr. Jones, who died this month at the age of 75, also founded a nationally recognized jazz studies program at the University of the District of Columbia that is fielding top-notch musicians all over the world.
Before joining the UDC faculty in 1976, Mr. Jones played with many of the greats, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Muddy Waters. His affection for Washington developed during his service with the 75th Army Band at Fort Belvoir. He stayed on to study and to work in area nightspots, and he performed with the legendary Howard Theater Orchestra, the pit orchestra at the National Theatre and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.
In the 1960s, Mr. Jones taught music in three District elementary schools and at Cardozo High School, where he wrote music for the school's high-stepping, show-stopping marching band. At UDC, he worked long hours with students, becoming a father figure to many who cherished his counsel. His pride in them extended well beyond their graduations; he followed their careers and encouraged them.
To promote young jazz musicians elsewhere in the area, Mr. Jones started a "Battle of the Bands" night at UDC, featuring his big-sound UDC Jazz Ensemble and bands from Howard and Maryland universities. The program became an annual standing-room-only tradition; radio hosts -- including his close friend Felix Grant, who contributed generously to help establish a UDC national archive of jazz -- joined in to present the talent that rocks the rooftop of the campus auditorium every April. A highlight for the performers was when their soft-spoken, lanky professor would glide center stage, raise his trombone and join them to play one of his arrangements.
"This precious art of jazz, which is so close to America's heart and from the heart of black America's experience of triumph and rising, is never going to take over TV or anything like that," Mr. Jones said to a Washington Times writer three years ago. "But it lives when people come to listen to it." Because of Calvin Jones, countless well-schooled musicians will be seeing to that.